What Does Wormwood Mean When Used In Revelation?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

Have you read the word “wormwood” in the Book of Revelation or elsewhere in the Old Testament?  What does this word refer too?

What is Wormwood?

Revelation 18:10-11 says The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.” This was the third of seven trumpets that were sounded in Revelation 8:6-13 through Revelation 9:1-20.  The Greek word used for “wormwood” is “apsinthion” and in the Greek it refers to the name of a star which fell into the waters and made them bitter and this seems to fit what the verse says.  Is this a meteorite since an actual star would destroy the earth?  It could well be.  The earth has had many near misses with meteorites and there is evidence that meteorites have struck the earth before and so will yet another strike the earth someday?  It is certainly possible.  Wormwood could easily mean a type of bitterness and speak figuratively about a coming calamity where the fresh waters and perhaps even the oceanic waters are polluted.  Mankind is currently polluting both.  If the meteorite has high concentrations of radioactivity and it is distinctly possible, then this could mean a giant kill of animal and sea life and certainly cause deaths where it comes into contact with the waters that humans drink.

What Does Wormwood Mean When Used In Revelation

Old Testament Prophecies

Jeremiah once pronounced a judgment on Israel where he wrote “Therefore this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I will make this people eat bitter food and drink poisoned water’” (Jer 9:15) and “I will make them eat bitter food and drink poisoned water, because from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has spread throughout the land” (Jer 23:16) so wormwood could be a figurative judgment that is coming to the world because the result of the wormwood is “A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.” Some have pointed out that wormwood (the plant) is called Chernobyl in Slavic languages and point to the 1986 nuclear accident that polluted the land and the waters for hundreds of miles turning the water bitter and killing humans, animal, and fish but is this what the Book of Revelation was talking about in Revelation 8:10-11.  I don’t believe that it was and I hope to show you why.

Wormwood, Symbolic of God’s Judgment

The most reasonable explanation appears to come from the correlation of the word wormwood used elsewhere in the Scriptures, primarily in the Old Testament as in Proverbs 5:4 where it is written “But her end is bitter as wormwood, and sharp as a two-edged sword” and again, in Jeremiah 9:15 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts the God of Israel: Behold I will feed this people with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink” and again in Jeremiah 23:15 “Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts to the prophets: Behold I will feed them with wormwood, and I will give them gall to drink: for from the prophets of Jerusalem corruption has gone forth into all the land.”

Jeremiah uses this word more than any other writer in the Bible, including in the Lamentations “He has filled me with bitterness, he has inebriated me with wormwood” (Lam 3:15) and “Remember my poverty, and transgression, the wormwood, and the gall” (Jer 3:19).  Here the prophet is referring to his own experience with wormwood and he seems to use it as an analogy for bitterness.  The use of wormwood as judgment for the unrepentant is also prevalent in Amos’ writings “You that turn judgment into wormwood, and forsake justice in the land” (5:7) and again in Amos 6:13 “Can horses run upon the rocks, or can anyone plough with buffles? For you have turned judgment into bitterness, and the fruit of justice into wormwood.”  Clearly then, wormwood can refer to the bitterness experienced through God’s judgment of sinful mankind as it was in both the Old and the New Testament.

Conclusion

The context of the uses of the word “wormwood” in the Book of Revelation and by the prophets of the Old Testament clearly show that it refers to a judgment of God and God’s judgment is always a bitter pill to swallow.  If there is such a meteorite that is to fall from the heavens someday and it pollutes the water and causes 1/3 of mankind and animals to perish, it can certainly be a judgment of God for nothing happens outside of the sovereign will of God anyway.  The context of Revelation chapter eight shows that God is judging the unrepentant of the world and sooner or later that judgment is coming and whether God uses a meteorite as part of that judgment or the judgment comes after death (Heb 9:27) it is still coming on all who have refused to repent and trust in Christ.  For those who have the wrath of God abiding on them for disbelieving in Jesus (John 3:36b), indeed, that will be the most bitter thing that they have or ever will swallow.

Take a look at this related article: End Times: Are We in the Last Days?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robert August 26, 2015 at 12:54 pm

Jack,
Excellent treatment of this subject. So often it is difficult to get a firm grasp on what Revelation is saying, because of its prophetic/vision genre of writing. But you distilled the important points down into something that makes sense, and is vitally important, no matter which view of Revelation one adheres to. Thanks again brother.
Yours in Christ,
Robert

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Jack Wellman August 26, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Thank you my brother in Christ. Always the “Barnabas.” I do hope it was sufficient and you yourself are as sterling of a write as any that I know of brother.

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